Some Irish children as young as 7 are spending 21 hours a week on phones, laptops or watching TV.
While a fifth of 7 and 8 year olds are either overweight or obese.
They are among the findings of the latest findings of the ESRI Growing Up in Ireland study of children and young people published today.
Describing how 5,000 7/8-year-olds in Ireland are faring in three aspects of their lives and help to identify where children of this age require most support to build healthy, successful lives.
With regard to health and development at 7/8 years of age the reports found:
- Most 7/8-year-olds are in good health. Around 80 per cent of 7/8-year-olds were described by parents as being very healthy, no problems with a further 19 per cent described as healthy, but with a few minor problems. This has been the general picture since 9 months of age.
- Overweight and obesity remain a major health problem, particularly among children from low income families. 15 per cent of children were reported to have been overweight and 5 per cent as being obese. 27 per cent of children from lowest income families were overweight or obese compared with 16 per cent of children from the highest income families.
- Dietary quality was linked to family social class. 36 per cent of children from families in the most socially disadvantaged group had a low dietary quality compared to 17 per cent of children from a professional/managerial background.
With regard to school and learning at 7/8 years of age the report found:
- Most children were reported to have adjusted well to school. 90 per cent of mothers reported that that their child had adjusted easily to school. Over three-quarters (77 per cent) of mothers said their 7/8-year-old did not find it difficult to sit still and listen in class, although 14 per cent did report they found it difficult.
- Children who find it difficult to settle into school in the beginning continue to find school difficult. Children who were identified by their teachers at 5 years of age as having a negative attitude or disposition to school were reported by their mothers to have had more adjustment problems 2 years later. Identifying the types of children who have negative dispositions to school at an early stage helps to target children most in need of support.
- Boys are more likely than girls to find school difficult. Mothers reported that 87 per cent of boys compared to 92 per cent of girls found it easy to adjust to school. 19 per cent of boys found it difficult to sit still and listen in class, compared to 8 per cent of girls.
- Children whose mothers have less education are more likely to find schoolwork difficult. Mothers who had third level education were less likely to say their child usually found schoolwork hard (2 per cent) compared to mothers who had left school at Junior Certificate or earlier (5 per cent).
With regards to socio-emotional development, relationships and play at 7/8 years of age the report found:
- Most children were doing well in terms of their socio-emotional development. This was based on reports from the children’s mothers, using internationally developed and widely-used measures of socio-emotional well-being.
- Girls had higher scores on measures of social skills than boys. Girls were scored higher on measures of social skills such as assertion, empathy, responsibility and self-control.
- Reading, ‘make-believe’ games and playing on a computer/tablet were the most frequent play activities reported by children’s mothers. 35 per cent read for pleasure every day but 22 per cent did so less than 1-2 times a week. Boys were more likely to play physically active games but also more computer games. Girls were more likely to enjoy dance, music, crafts and reading.
- Boys had more screen time than girls. Among all children, typical screen time on a week day was reported to be 1-2 hours, but this increased to over 3 hours each day at the weekend. Boys had substantially more screen time than girls. 14 per cent of boys and 10 per cent of girls had more than three hours of screen time on a typical weekday. On a typical day at the weekend 51 per cent of boys and 39 per cent of girls had more than 3 hours of screen time.
- Children whose mothers had lower levels of education have more screen time. Screen time varied significantly with level of mother’s education. 23 per cent of 7/8-year-olds whose mothers have Junior Certificate level education or less had more than 3 hours of screen-time on a week day compared to 6 per cent of those whose mother had a degree.
The reports today also highlighted the importance of access to GP care regardless of ability to pay and also assessed the increased demand associated with free GP care, providing important evidence for policy on further extensions in free GP care.
The Growing Up in Ireland study found that children’s use of GP services increased when they became eligible for free GP care and among children who did not have access to free GP care, the study found that children from higher income families were more likely to visit their GP.
Other findings included:
- The study compared the type of GP access children had in 2008 (at the age of 9 months) and 2011 (at age 3). During this time, the proportion of children with full medical cards and GP visit cards increased. The proportion of children with private health insurance decreased.
- In 2008, 26 per cent had full medical cards. In 2011, 34 per cent had full medical cards
- In 2008, 3 per cent had GP visit cards. In 2011, 4 per cent had GP visit cards.
- In 2008, 29 per cent had private health insurance with cover for GP visits. In 2011, 26 per cent had this type of cover.
- In 2008, 23 per cent had private health insurance without GP cover. In 2011, 20 per cent had this type of cover.
- At both 9 months and 3 years of age, children with a full medical card or GP visit card had a significantly higher number of GP visits per annum than children who had no cover, i.e. no medical card, GP visit card or private health insurance. This was the case after adjusting for the child’s health needs, other child characteristics and family characteristics.
- Among children without a full medical card or GP visit card, those in higher income families had more GP visits (particularly at the age of 9 months), even adjusting for their health. This suggests that lower income children without a full medical card or GP visit card faced financial barriers to accessing GP care.
- The study tracked changes in the number of GP visits among children who gained a full medical card or GP visit card. The number of GP visits increased by 25 per cent per year among children who became eligible for free access to GP care.
Commenting on the new research findings, James Williams, Research Professor at the ESRI, noted that: ‘The figures released today once again show how the Growing Up in Ireland study is providing very detailed information to highlight the areas of children’s lives where they most need support.
"The findings published today highlight the importance of early identification and intervention for children who have a negative attitude towards school from their earliest experiences of it. Negative attitudes towards school at 5 years of age are reflected in the children having difficulties in adjusting to school 2-3 years later and to coping with the pace of schoolwork’.
Anne Nolan, Associate Research Professor at the ESRI, went on: “Chronic ill-health can be a lifelong burden for the child, their family and the wider community. Early intervention is critical as health in early life is linked to outcomes in later life, including education and employment. For this reason, it is important to understand how the financing system for healthcare in Ireland can restrict children’s use of GP services.”
Welcoming the publication of this new research from the Growing Up in Ireland study, Minister Katherine Zappone TD said obesity and diet are issues which must continue to be addressed to ensure the health of our children.
"Growing up in Ireland is a significant state investment in research on children’s lives funded by my Department - it helps us understand children’s lives and experiences. This evidence will feed into future policy not just in my own area but right across Government. There are lessons for health, education and many others.
"It is invaluable. The findings show many children are doing well, settling into school and experiencing positive health and well-being. But they also draw attention to more problematic issues and help identify which groups are doing less well and where support may be required. This is the kind of information that will be of great value to policy makers working to improve outcomes for children.”